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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Nehemiah 12

Verses 1-7

Heads of the Priests


Again we find a list of names of those who went up with Zerubbabel and Jeshua from Babylon. These are the priests and the Levites. Both characteristics, those of a priest and of a Levite, should be found with every believer: sacrifice and service.

The first series of names is that of “the heads of the priests and their kinsmen in the days of Jeshua” (Neh 12:7). In the other lists the chief priests are not mentioned separately. They are mentioned here. The heads of the Levites have been mentioned before. In Neh 12:12-21 a later generation of priests is mentioned, who undoubtedly served in the later days of Nehemiah. They are the sons of those mentioned earlier, faithful men who walk in the footsteps of their fathers and are examples to the people.

Verses 8-11

The Levites


The second series of names is that of Levites. The names are in connection with the singers. Despite the decay and small number of Israelites, who also are spiritually weak, there are Levites who are “in charge of the songs of thanksgiving”.

There is also a short genealogy of five generations, running from Jeshua to Jaddua. These five generations cover the period of 538-333 BC. Jaddua is the great and deservedly celebrated high priest who occupied this high place in the days when the Medo-Persian rule was overthrown by Alexander the Great. He is the last mentioned high priest in the Old Testament.

Verses 12-21

Priestly Families


Mentioned here are the sons of those already mentioned in Neh 12:1-7. The twenty fathers in those verses are mentioned here again, now with one son each as the next head of the family. These are the later days, the days of Joiakim, the son and successor of Jeshua (Neh 12:10). Here we see the favor of God for His people. God ensures that there will always be a priestly lineage.

Verses 22-23

The Levites Are Registered


Here the following generations of Levites are mentioned, who live during the time of successive high priests. God also maintains the Levite service, even though it sometimes seems as if it is over. The priestly service also continues, despite foreign domination. There is no conceivable circumstance of which it should be said that God cannot be brought what is due to Him.

Verses 24-26

Levites in the Days of Joiakim


Of the Levites mentioned here, it is said as a special feature that they are there “in the days of Joiakim …, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra the priest [and] scribe”. These Levites are contemporaries of these men, that is to say, they have to deal with the same spiritual atmosphere and face the special spirit that characterizes the time in which they live. These contemporaries hold on to God’s Word, while the characteristic of that time is that it is abandoned by the majority. They maintain, though in weakness, a testimony to the LORD Who brought them back to the place of His Name.

Of the heads of the Levites it is specially mentioned that they “praise [and] give thanks, as prescribed by David the man of God”. They do not look at the wretched situation in which they find themselves, but at God’s commandment, and they keep it. Whatever our weakness may be, we too can keep what is from the beginning and carry out what is written.

Verses 27-30

The Dedication of the Wall


This is where history continues. The wall is already completed in Nehemiah 6 (Neh 6:15). The intermediate chapters tell the story of the consecration of the people as a whole because the Word of God brings them to self-judgment. Now that the people have consecrated themselves, the wall can be dedicated. The completion is cause for joy and thankfulness to God and a feast to dedicate the wall.

The feast of dedication is celebrated because the LORD has not only brought His people back from the land of the foreigner, but has also granted that His house and His holy city are surrounded with a wall for His people. The wall is a testimony for friend and foe that those who once were scattered because of their sins are now under God’s care. This is a cause for joy. This joy manifests itself in thanksgiving and songs accompanied by musical instruments. This is how David arranged it (Neh 12:36; 1Chr 15:16; Ezra 3:10). Each Levite has his own voice and his own instrument, but they are all full of what the LORD has arranged. He is the object of their songs of praise and thanksgiving, and therefore it is harmonious.

There have been more dedication feasts in the history of Israel: at the bringing up of the ark by David to the city of David (2Sam 6:12), at the dedication of the temple (1Kgs 8:62-66), at the laying of the foundation of the temple (Ezra 3:10-13), and at the dedication of the house (Ezra 6:16-18). The joy at dedication ceremonies is always in connection with God’s house and is there in spite of the decay. These feasts are not imposed by law, but take place spontaneously.

This is also the case here. The dedication of the wall becomes a general feast. And not only for the builders of the wall and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The Levites, the singers, come from all sides. The wall of Jerusalem is a symbol of salvation and its gates of praise.

Before the feast is celebrated, the priests and the Levites first purify themselves and then the people, the gates and the wall. There can be no real dedication without purification. It is a purification with water, for which they may have used the water for impurity (Num 19:11-13). The washing with water through the Word is always necessary (Eph 5:26). In this way we come to confession and become clean.

Verses 31-37

The First Choir of Thanksgiving


By climbing the wall and walking over it, the wall becomes the property of the people (cf. Jos 1:3). In this way the people take possession of what lies within the wall. The walk on the wall is not meant to look at everything outside the city, but to look at everything inside. Separation is not negative, but positive. It is about what is dedicated to God. This can only be done by separating it from what is not dedicated to God. Going over the wall therefore gives the people a wide impression of the location of the city and how glorious God’s temple is.

The wall of separation around our lives has the same purpose. It is intended that we walk on it with thanksgiving for all that God has given us. Then we will not fall into sour sectarianism, but our lives will be a testimony of what God has done in it. In the first place for our children, as well as for all those around us.

Let us listen to the son of Korah in Psalm 48. After their jubilation for the salvation of Zion is their call:
“Walk about Zion and go around her;
Count her towers;
Consider her ramparts;
Go through her palaces,
That you may tell it to the next generation.
For such is God,
Our God forever and ever;
He will guide us until death” (Psa 48:12-14).

If we go over the wall like this, we will see the city of God as God sees it. We will then see the church as it is according to God’s counsel. That elicits expressions of thanks and these in turn are a testimony for all who see and hear it. That is the effect of separation according to God’s thoughts.

The first choir of thanksgiving departs from the west, near the Valley Gate. Their route runs on the southern part of the wall in the direction of the Refuse Gate. Ezra is at the head of this procession. Nehemiah makes way, as it were, for the Word of God in the person of Ezra. That must lead and be followed by all.

We then come to the Fountain Gate, to draw fresh water, to be revived and encouraged by the Word of God on our way. Our gaze is lifted up, through the steps, to the dwelling place of David, a picture of our Lord in heaven to Whom all authority is given in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:18).

When we fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus, we come to the Water Gate in the east. The east speaks among other things of the future, of the expectation of the Lord Jesus. Water speaks not only of refreshment but also of cleansing (Eph 5:26). We are looking forward to Him and this will have a purifying effect on us, because “everyone who has this hope [fixed] on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1Jn 3:3).

Verses 38-39

The Second Choir of Thanksgiving


Nehemiah walks behind the second choir of thanksgiving. He is not at its head. Every thought of self-interest is missing. He does not walk there in the spirit of Nebuchadnezzar with the thought: “Isn’t this the great wall I built?” (Dan 4:30). He knows that he is but an instrument of the LORD.

This second choir passes a lot of buildings. Except for the Gate of Ephraim and the Gate of the Guard they are all mentioned in Nehemiah 3 (see there for the commentary on these structures). Possibly nothing had to be repaired at the Gate of Ephraim and the Gate of the Guard. While this choir is walking over the wall, these buildings again come to their attention.

We will always have to be reminded of certain truths on our way in separation according to God’s will. Peter is committed to reminding believers of what they have learned (2Pet 1:12). Jude does the same (Jude 1:5). And Paul does not mind repeating things he has pointed out before (Phil 3:1).

There is always the danger of forgetfulness. This forgetfulness can strike in the width of our life of faith. Then we become careless with the things of God. We become more and more absorbed in the things of this life and no longer worry so much about the interests of God. God’s interests get sidelined and we forget what He has done for us and no longer examine His Word.

This forgetfulness can also strike us in the depths of our life of faith. Then we will emphasize certain truths, while forgetting other truths, no longer paying attention to them. And when others point this out to us, we declare “those other truths” as of a lower, less important order or as not applicable to us.

Verses 40-42

Both Choirs in the House of God


The tour over the wall is finished. This gave the choirs a great impression of the size and location of the city, each from a different perspective. Wouldn’t that say something about our view of the church? Who dares to say that he oversees the whole plan of God? Which local church, however endowed with gifts of great insight, can say that it oversees the whole of God’s thoughts?

“We know in part” (1Cor 13:9). We need each other to come to a full view. “All the saints” are needed to discover “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18-19).

Both choirs meet in the house of God, in the presence of God. There they become one mighty choir. If the Word of God precedes us on our way on the wall and leads us into the joy of what is dedicated to God, we will end up in the house of God. That will be in perfection when the Lord Jesus comes to take us into the Father’s house. But it is also true now. We will praise Him in the church in the presence of God with all the ‘members of the two choirs’ for all that He has done (Eph 3:20-21).

Verse 43

Great Joy


The walking on the wall, taking possession of the city for God with thanksgiving to dedicate it to Him, culminates in great joy. This is the result when His people walk before Him in holiness and truth. In accordance with the “great joy”, “great sacrifices” are offered. Thus God is honored and admired. He receives all thanks and worship for what He has given His people.

The sacrifices speak of the Lord Jesus. It does not say what kind of sacrifices they are. Most likely they are peace offerings. Of those offerings God gets His share, and the priest and the people also get their share (Lev 3:11; Lev 7:19; 31). The peace offering is an offering that expresses the fellowship between God, the Lord Jesus, and His people. Through the offering of the Lord Jesus this has become possible. It is a ‘great’ sacrifice. For us it means that we have a great impression of the work of the Lord Jesus and tell that to God and to each other.

The fellowship we are allowed to have with one another is experienced in a special way at the Table of the Lord. While there, we think of His work and remember His death. On the one hand it makes us sad that we are the cause of His death through our sins. On the other hand, we remember with joy that He did it, making fellowship with Him and God and with one another possible. That is why we speak of “the cup of blessing” or “the cup of praise” at the Supper of the Lord (1Cor 10:14-18). At the celebration of the Lord’s Supper we will rejoice at the extent to which we have “walked on the wall” during the week.

In this verse we read about “rejoicing” and “joy” no less than four times. This joy comes from God. He is its source. It is a great joy, not only for men, but also for women and children. The added value of this joy is that it is a testimony to the wider environment (cf. Ezra 3:13). All those who did not go along share in the joy. It is like the anointing of the Lord Jesus through Mary, through which “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (Jn 12:3), so that everyone present could smell the fragrance of the perfume meant for the Lord Jesus.

Verses 44-47

Taking Care of the Levites


Another consequence of the walking on the wall is the care of God’s servants to further His work. When there is dedication, not only the heart is touched, but also the wallet (Heb 13:15-16). Where there is thankfulness to God, it will also be seen in doing good to people and sharing with them. Giving love does not empty the heart; giving money does not empty the wallet (Mal 3:10-11).

After the LORD has received His part in the “great sacrifices” (Neh 12:43), the servants receive their part from the people (Neh 12:44). If God is praised for the restoration He has given, there will also be thankfulness for the service His servants do among the people. Judah rejoices.

Our joy is expressed in accepting each service on behalf of God and in supporting it in a practical way. If servants are not accepted and even forgotten, it is proof of contempt by the people for what the church is to Christ. For Christ, out of love for His church, gave ministers for the edification of His church (Eph 4:11).

The care of priests and Levites goes out to the service of their God and what is needed for purification. Everything that is done for God can only be acknowledged and accepted by Him if it is in accordance with His holiness. He cannot accept anything that is impure. But He also knows who we are. That is why He provides opportunities to serve Him in a way that is pleasing to Him.

There is order by obeying the institutions of the past. The standards of purity have not changed since the days of David and Solomon. What those standards are, God has revealed in His Word. Because He has not changed, the standards of purity have not changed for us either. If we want to serve Him as a priest, Levite, singer and gatekeeper, we will consult His Word. Then we will go back to the beginning and we will not be at the mercy of human traditions that are constantly being adjusted in the course of time.

This is not about adapted melodies or adapted language. It is about the content of our thanksgiving. Are God and the Lord Jesus still the object of it? Do the songs bear witness to necessary reverence? Is the content in accordance with Scripture? The preference of many Christians is more and more for songs that “sing well”, that give a certain good feeling. The content is hardly looked at, let alone tested against the Bible. Songs in which the Holy Spirit is sung to and worshiped have become commonplace. Respect has also disappeared more and more. God and Jesus are brought down to the level of man. Certainly, we may speak boldly with and about God and Christ, but we must never become popular or banal.

The last verse (Neh 12:47) aptly connects the days of Nehemiah with the days of Zerubbabel. In both cases it concerns a revival that God has worked. In both cases the same things happen. There is great willingness to give. Provision is made for the maintenance of the singers and the gatekeepers. Every day they get what they need. Every day they can do their work, without having to worry about their livelihood.

Singers turn to God in thanksgiving. Gatekeepers look at people. They see to it that only they who have the right to do so enter the city. For us this means that we have to make sure that our thanks to God and our care for the church are given our attention every day, that these aspects, so to speak, receive food every day, and have a living presence in us.

All Levites are thought of. They receive consecrated portions. The people give them what they have set aside for the LORD. In turn, the Levites give the consecrated portions to the priests.

The foregoing expresses a beautiful mind. Where the Lord becomes great for the hearts and there is dedication to Him, the people will function the way He wants them to. Each member fulfills the task assigned to him or her for the benefit of every other member. This working among God’s people culminates in what is given to the priests, who here are called “the sons of Aaron”. This designation emphasizes the practice of the priesthood in the awareness of the connection with the Lord Jesus as the High Priest. Thus, finally, the heart is turned toward Him.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Nehemiah 12". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/nehemiah-12.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.